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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

The Invisibilizing of Witches

By Cotton Mather (1663–1728)

[From The Wonders of the Invisible World. 1693.]

IN all the witchcraft which now grievously vexes us, I know not whether anything be more unaccountable than the trick which the witches have to render themselves, and their tools invisible. Witchcraft seems to be the skill of applying the plastic spirit of the world unto some unlawful purposes by means of a confederacy with evil spirits. Yet one would wonder how the evil spirits themselves can do some things; especially at invisibilizing of the grossest bodies. I can tell the name of an ancient author who pretends to show the way how a man may come to walk about invisible, and I can tell the name of another ancient author who pretends to explode that way. But I will not speak too plainly lest I should unawares poison some of my readers, as the pious Hemingius did one of his pupils, when he only by way of diversion recited a spell which, they had said, would cure agues. This much I will say: The notion of procuring invisibility, by any natural expedient yet known, is, I believe, a mere Plinyism; how far it may be obtained by a magical sacrament is best known to the dangerous knaves that have try’d it. But our witches do seem to have got the knack; and this is one of the things that make me think witchcraft will not be fully understood, until the day when there shall not be one witch in the world.

There are certain people very dogmatical about these matters; but I’ll give them only these three bones to pick.

First, one of our bewitched people was cruelly assaulted by a spectre that, she said, ran at her with a spindle; though no body else in the room could see either the spectre or the spindle. At last, in her miseries giving a snatch at the spectre, she pull’d the spindle away, and it was no sooner got into her hand but the other people then present beheld that it was indeed a real, proper, iron spindle, belonging they knew to whom; which when they lock’d up very safe, it was nevertheless by demons unaccountably stole away, to do further mischief.

Secondly, another of our bewitched people was haunted with a most abusive spectre, which came to her, she said, with a sheet about her. After she had undergone a deal of teaze from the annoyance of the spectre, she gave a violent snatch at the sheet that was upon it; wherefrom she tore a corner, which in her hand immediately became visible to a roomful of spectators; a palpable corner of a sheet. Her father, who was now holding her, catch’d that he might keep what his daughter had so strangely seized, but the unseen spectre had like to have pull’d his hand off by endeavouring to wrest it from him; however he still held it, and I suppose has it still to show; it being but a few hours ago, namely about the beginning of this October, that this accident happened in the family of one Pitman, at Manchester.

Thirdly, a young man, delaying to procure testimonials for his parents, who, being under confinement on suspicion of witchcraft, required him to do that service for them, was quickly pursued with odd inconveniences. But once above the rest, an officer going to put his brand on the horns of some cows belonging to these people, which though he had seiz’d for some of their debts, yet he was willing to leave in their possession, for the subsistance of the poor family; this young man help’d in holding the cows to be thus branded. The three first cows he held well enough; but when the hot brand was clap’d upon the fourth he winc’d and shrunk at such a rate as that he could hold the cow no longer. Being afterwards examined about it, he confessed, that at that very instant when the brand entered the cow’s horn, exactly the like burning brand was clap’d upon his own thigh; where he has expos’d the lasting marks of it, unto such as asked to see them.

Unriddle these things,—Et eris mihi magnus Apollo.